President Jacob Zuma shakes hands with President Robert Mugabe in Harare on Thursday. Zuma delivered the opening address during the inaugural session of the South Africa-Zimbabwe Bi-National Commission. Picture: Kopano Tlape

Harare - South Africa wants to reverse the recent ban on some of its exports to Zimbabwe, which is the main reason President Jacob Zuma travelled to Harare on Wednesday, insiders say.

Zuma is there officially to formalise a higher code of co-operation between the two countries.

He and President Robert Mugabe attended the inaugural session of the South Africa-Zimbabwe Bi-National Commission (BNC) on Thursday.

“This is about South African exports to Zimbabwe,” a businessman said.

“I don’t think Zuma’s in a position to influence any politics in Zimbabwe. And
I don’t think this is the main reason for the visit.

“As (Trade and Industry) Minister Rob Davies is part of the contingent, this points to trade matters. The ban on many imports must have hurt South African exporters,” he said.

Zimbabwe’s imports massively outstripped exports, and in April commercial banks began issuing warning signals that US dollars – the currency of choice in Zimbabwe – were running short.

The government moved to ban imports of a range of South African goods, mostly those also made in Zimbabwe such as coffee creamers, camphor creams and building materials.

Industry and Commerce Minister Mike Bimha said at the time the ban was meant to support local industry, and he launched the Buy Zimbabwe campaign.

But South African exporters, local agents and even Zimbabwean vendors were unhappy, and some of them protested in the streets.

Commercial traffic to Beit Bridge and north to Harare has dropped dramatically since the ban came into effect.

But Zimbabwe’s financial position hasn’t improved.

Several industrialists and miners said that although they were allowed to import some goods from South Africa, there was often no money to pay for them.

“Our suppliers in South Africa have learnt a hard lesson. They won’t put the goods on the road until the money arrives,” said an industrialist in Bulawayo.

Others in Harare said they hoped the Zuma delegation would have an influence on the political situation as many believe the economy wouldn’t attract investment and loans until Mugabe, who will be 93 in February, leaves office.

Bimha told Zimbabwe state media earlier this week that all outstanding agreements had to be implemented. “Some plans and agreements (established last year) haven’t progressed beyond the signed documents,” he said. “That must change in the new dispensation of the BNC.

“The BNC is no more than a mechanism. It’s an instrument which on its own cannot deliver on our co-operation. We have agreements that are still under negotiation, we have signed agreements that await implementation. It’s us who have to use it to achieve the planning and implementation of our programmes of co-operation.”

He said the BNC was a “significant qualitative upgrading of our two countries’ already solid relations. Zimbabwe doesn’t have this type of forum of co-operation with any other country.

“The BNC with South Africa is a first and speaks volumes about the nature and character of the close and cordial relations we have and we are committed to strengthen to greater heights.”

There are more than 120 South African companies doing business in Zimbabwe in various sectors including mining, aviation, tourism, banking, property, retail, construction and the fast-food sector.

Next week, Zimbabweans expect to see a new currency, bond notes, in the banks. The central bank has launched the notes in small denominations to ease the shortage of dollars.

Independent Foreign Service